Curt Cignetti talks to the media in January with athletic director Frank Condino in the background. [Keith Boyer]
Curt Cignetti didn’t grow up in Indiana, and he didn’t attend IUP. Yet, he feels like he’s coming home. Cignetti was hired in late January as the eleventh head football coach in the school’s history, bringing him back to the place where his father, Frank, coached for twenty seasons and where he himself met his wife, the former Manette Lawer.
“IUP has always been a very special place to me, a tremendous university with great academics and outstanding football tradition,” he said.
The hire was the culmination of a month-long national search to replace Lou Tepper, whose contract was not renewed following five seasons as head coach. Cignetti comes to IUP after more than twenty-five years as an assistant coach at several Division I schools, most recently Alabama, where he helped lead the Crimson Tide to the BCS Championship in 2009.
He said he is excited about the challenge ahead, of returning the program to the heights his father achieved in the 1980s and 1990s. But he also said he wants to produce good men, not just good football players.
“While we want to win football games, and that is one of the primary goals of the head football coach, I want to bring the type of people to IUP who will represent the university with class, can earn their degree. and can also help us play championship football,” Cignetti said.
The Crimson Hawks are coming off a 6-5 season in which they had three losses by seven points or fewer. Following the completion of the season, six players were named to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division all-star team. Running back Harvie Tuck, offensive lineman Jimmy O’Rourke, and linebacker Mike Gee were named to the first team, while kicker Craig Burgess, wide receiver Mychal Skinner, and defensive lineman Carl Thornton were picked by the coaches for the second team. Additionally, Gee was named to the Daktronics Super Region One all-region team, while he, O’Rourke, and Burgess were picked for the Don Hansen Football Gazette All-Super Region One team.
As for alumni, two former IUP players were on the move over the winter in the coaching ranks. After two years at the University of Pittsburgh, Frank Cignetti Jr. ’89 was hired as the offensive coordinator at Rutgers, and Chris Bache ’87 was hired as the offensive line coach at Kent State after spending the 2010 season at Adrian (Mich.) College.
His rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys didn’t end so well, but Akwasi Owusu-Ansah had a good year, nonetheless. A defensive back, he was picked in the fourth round of the NFL draft and signed a four-year, $2.24 million contract. But his season was cut short by an ankle injury, and he was placed on the injured reserve list on November 10, ending his season. Carmelo Ocasio ’03 recently signed a contract to return to the Reading Express of the Indoor Football League. He is Reading’s all-time leader in catches (492), yards (5,726), and touchdowns (138). Also, Donta Green, who played at IUP from 2006 to 2008, agreed to terms with another IFL team, the Fairbanks Grizzlies. The Las Vegas Locos won their second consecutive United Football League championship in November, and they did it with two former IUP players on the roster: offensive lineman Jason Capizzi (2004-06) and linebacker Kris Griffin (2002-04).
The season ended on a disappointing note for the Crimson Hawks, with an 8-9 record, but five players were picked for the all-conference team, including two who were tabbed with All-America status. Leading the group is sophomore midfielder Anouk Sickman, who was named to the womensfieldhockey.com first team, with senior defender Kacie Klotz picked for the second team. Both were on the second team for the Longstreth National Field Hockey Coaches Association All-America team. As for the all-conference team, Sickman and Klotz were picked for the first team, while Lydia Dolly, Erin Shirk, and Shannon Sullivan were named to the second team.
If there were a trophy case for the IUP golf team, by now it would need an addition or two. Maybe three. Coming off a top-ten finish at last spring’s NCAA Division II championships, head coach Fred Joseph’s squad dominated the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference in the fall season by capturing its fourth consecutive conference title, at the Hershey Links Golf Club in October. The Crimson Hawks won the team title by twenty strokes over West Chester and twenty-one over Clarion.
As if winning the PSAC crown, its tenth overall, wasn’t enough, IUP also had its fourth straight conference champion, in Indiana High School graduate Sean Sweithelm. Just a sophomore, Sweithelm fired a sixty-nine on the final day of competition to win the title by one stroke, following Crimson Hawks Gavin Smith (2007), Leo Acklin (2008), and Brad Boyle (2009) as conference champs. Sweithelm opened the two-day tournament with a 76 but rallied on the second day and finished with a one-over-par total of 145. Zack Kempa, a freshman, finished third, and Boyle, a junior, and sophomore Derek Baker tied for seventh. Acklin, the Crimson Hawks’ only senior, placed sixteenth.
The win marks the second time IUP has won four straight conference titles, following the success of its teams from 1989 to 1992.
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Halfway across the globe, Jahzinga Tracey ’09 is continuing to rule the basketball court. IUP’s women’s all-time leading scorer, with 2,101 points, Tracey is a standout player in Germany for Eisvogel USC Freiburg, a pro team in the southwest corner of the country. At the midway point of the season, Tracey was averaging 9.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game for her team, whose nickname translates to the “Kingfishers.” Last season with Freiburg, Tracey averaged 12 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
The Crimson Hawks’ men’s and women’s teams each placed eighth at the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region meet in November in Cary, N.C. IUP fared so well based on the top times of Alyssa Taddie and Clint Keller. Taddie placed twenty-eighth in a field of 179 runners, in 23:45.3 on the six-kilometer course. That time helped the Crimson Hawks finish one point out of seventh place in a twenty-six-team field. As for the men, Keller finished the ten-kilometer course in thirty-ninth place, out of 187 runners, in 33:50.0, leading the way as IUP placed eighth out of twenty-eight teams.
IUP placed four players on the all-conference team following the completion of the season, which ended with a 9-8-1 record and a berth in the PSAC tournament. Paige Virgara was picked for the second team, while Melissa Kornock, Allison Keller, and Lauren Mizik were placed on the third team. Kornock, a junior, was also selected for the Daktronics All-Atlantic Region second team.
Among the thousands of runners in the thirty-third annual Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh race in September, two IUP names were near the top. Indiana High graduate and current IUP sophomore Garrett Milner finished fifth in the five-kilometer race, in 15 minutes, 58 seconds. Joey Zins, an assistant cross country coach at IUP, placed second in the ten-kilometer race, in 30:51. Based on his career as a top athlete on the IUP track team to his work as a strength coach and athletics director, Greg Caprara ’87 was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame East Boros Chapter in October. On a sad note, former IUP hurdler Bob Bell ’83 passed away January 9, in Winter Park, Fla. A native of Ligonier, Bell died of leukemia-related complications.
Head coach Zach Shaver guided the Crimson Hawks to a 23-11 season, complete with a berth in the Atlantic Regional tournament. The team was led by senior Emily Pany, who was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association all-region team for the second consecutive year.